It's give that man a cigar, pass along the joint and to hell with the sniffer dogs, as Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones attends #Friedman16, the annual Libertarian conference.
I THINK IA is the first mainstream publication to bring you the exciting news that Matt Barrie is officially Libertarian of the Year.
Both are fair questions and both will be answered, but, believe me, I have to start at the beginning.
It was billed as the largest free market conference in the Asia-Pacific Region, tackling the biggest economic and policy challenges facing Australia, and it was going to be held at the "award-winning" Aerial Function Centre, so how could I resist?
$340 later, I was in.
UP THE LIFT TO LIBERTY
I’m not sure what awards the Aerial won, but it’s on the 7th floor of Building 10 at the University of Technology, Sydney — a renovation of the old Fairfax building on Jones Street.
Into the lift with the youngish crowd, not unlike those you’d encounter if you found yourself in the good tent on Derby Day, then through reception where you receive your special lanyard and a little showbag of anarcho-capitalist goodies.
Mine contained a brochure from the Institute of Public Affairs, another from the Centre for Independent Studies, a printed rave from insurer IAG about how unfair insurance taxes are, a magazine called, impressively, Policy, containing such gripping reads as 'Picking Apart Picketty', a plastic Uber drink bottle, a $10 Uber voucher, a Maccas voucher for an egg and bacon McMuffin, together with a tome entitled Peace, Love & Liberty, which has as its brilliant theme
‘There’s no such thing as being “undecided” about war. It’s a binary choice. If you’re not for it you have to be against it.'
The showbag itself is yellow and emblazoned with a graphic that seems to depict an echidna and carries the tagline:
‘Don’t tread on me, mate’.
Why would anybody want to tread on an echidna? Maybe if you were wearing workboots and just didn’t see it.
The bag also contained a handy conference guide which has a nice picture of Mark Latham laughing on the inside cover, as well as pictures and mini-bios of all the speakers.
The guide informed me the conference was actually organised by the Australian Libertarian Society, no mention of HR Nicholls, so already I felt shortchanged. Even more so when I realised my $340 wouldn’t get me into the VIP dinner with Alex Hawke MP or the piss up at the Hard Rock Café for the book launch of The Libertarian Alternative, by the IPA's Chris Berg. As for lunch with Senator James Paterson (IPA), Scott Farlow MLC or even poor old Tim Wilson (IPA), forget it. My pass read "Guest".
For most of the year, you will probably be surrounded by people who think freedom is a fringe idea, and all Australia needs is just a few more taxes, regulations, prohibitions, and licences.
This weekend, you will surrounded by more than 300 liberty activists, business representatives, thought leaders and political influencers.
ATTACKS ON TAX
First up was Trevor Burrus from the US-based Cato Institute. A rotund and jolly-seeming fellow, he kicked off with the Bell v Buck case of 1927, which was all about eugenics, then worked his way through guns, seatbelts, smoking (Hitler hated it!) and the stupidity of regulations. At least he was cheery. And he vaped.
Next up came a panel discussion on the 2016 budget starring LDP Senator David Leyonhjelm, IPA heavy Professor Sinclair Davidson and the Centre for Independent Studies’ Simon Cowan — a research fellow, apparently.
All agreed we pay too much tax. Way too much tax. If the government was smaller – like a lot smaller – we wouldn’t have to pay so much tax.
The terms "land tax tyranny" and "multinational tax propaganda" were mentioned.
The best presentation was by Senator Leyonhjelm. Although bald as a coot, he suggested the way out of the budget imbroglio was for all Australians to take a haircut. He said this without smiling once.
Family First senator Bob Day, sporting a VIP pass, muscled in on question time. In common with about half the questioners over the entire day, he wanted to deliver a lengthy soliloquy about some injustice rather than ask a simple fucking question.
Anyway, Bob apparently has a "friend" who owns a McDonalds and this friend used to love employing local kids. Employed heaps of them. But now, what with the minimum wage shite, upper class students from university are attracted to flip burgers. Result? Idle local youth.
This gentrification of the burger business could be halted in its tracks if only individuals were allowed, from free choice, to opt out of the workplace legislation system. Then the locals could flex their working class freedom by undercutting the snotty blow-ins on wage price. Everyone agreed this would be a good thing.
Then it was morning tea.
A large room had been set aside for the purpose. In the middle of the room were the usual hotel trestles with the usual hotel tea and coffee facilities, although no biscuits the mean bastards.
The crowd milled. They were mostly youngish with a few older blokes but no older women. Dress was mixed, from young biz fashion to pretty daggy really. Some guys could have gone the extra yard. Girls the same. A few tradie business owners milled around in branded polos and there were two or three out-there looking dudes.
No one spoke to me so I went outside into the unseasonal Sydney sun. The Aerial Room has a large outdoor area, well over 100 square metres, with a view west over the Anzac Bridge. The few outdoor pot plant holders were soon awash in butts. The rest went straight on the floor under the "No Smoking" signs. I doubt the coffee was free trade.
TAMPA AFTER SMOKO
After smoko the conference broke into streams, the next session choices being "Education" in the Thomas Room or "Immigration" in the Broadway Room. Education can be a pretty dull topic, so I went for Broadway.
The session was chaired by the Hockey-appointed Productivity Commissioner Paul Lindwall.
Of Lindwall, the Sydney Morning Herald once noted:
'He is named in US embassy cables leaked to Wikileaks as a source of information about the internal workings of the Coalition and served on the staff of Malcolm Turnbull in opposition and Peter Costello as treasurer.'
Lindwall managed to work both Dante and Logan’s Run into an argument that immigration should be seen on a purely cost/benefit basis and that a decent entry fee would attract skilled migrants. Applause.
Commissioner Paul then handed the mike to Jayde Lovell, who bills herself as a science communicator (BSc neuroscience, MA Science Literacy). She is also an IPA member. An Australian, Jayde now works as a talking science head in New York. An accent is creeping in.
Jayde opened with a powerpoint slide showing the classic media overhead shot of the Tampa, wretches huddled on it’s deck.
What, she asked, would her mother have thought?
Seemingly a kind soul, her mum would have thought three things according to Jayde: they are queue jumpers, they are economic migrants and they disturb the peace.
But, hey! Jayde is too!
She paid for a U.S. work permit, she wanted a better economic life than she could get in Australia and, boy, she certainly disturbs the peace! So that makes her the same as them, right? Chuckles.
Jayde made the valid point that skilled migrants are way cheaper that natural births because we don’t have to spend a shitload sending them to school to make them job ready. This lot are ready to hit the ground running, and Jayde reckons it takes only four years to ‘flick’ them to revenue positive.
But Jayde pointed out something I was not aware of. Anyone with US$100,000 can purchase Dominican citizenship, and Dominican passport holders can travel without a visa in 119 countries, including the UK and Switzerland. (I checked, she’s right.)
What would a Libertarian do? Undercut the fuckers. Jayde suggested; say, $30,000 for Australia, about the cost, according to her, of an illegal passage. Applause.
Next up, Professor Jason Potts, professor of economics at RMIT, fellow of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance and adjunct fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs. So, qualified you would think.
Prof Potts is very keen on comparative advantage. Australia is relatively attractive to skilled migrants. Prof Potts is therefore a fan of open borders.
He also thinks the minimum wage has to go and that occupational licencing obligations should be dealt with.
But how to assuage the public regarding this surge in skilled, low cost workforce immigration?
Easy. Say you charged them $60 grand each to come in; then, instead of handing that money to an unnecessary government, you immediately divvy it up and distribute it to the populace. That way, every year, every Australian would get about $300 to $400 (depending on numbers). And they would be cool about the competition because they know, well, those people paid for it, and Australians are nothing if not fair.
But Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland Jim Allen disagreed with the open border thing entirely.
Jim spent a fair while on scary Muslim statistics from the UK.
He argued there are no self-evident moral truths and that no one has any right to anything. He must be fun to live with.
No-one had mentioned 457 visas.
Then it was lunch.
On a guest pass, it was chicken wrap in the Uni cafe with yesterday’s Tele.
SEX AND DRUGS AFTER LUNCH
The afternoon looked promising.
Again, we were to be divided into two streams. The Thompson Room was hosting "Religious liberty", while over at the Broadway Room it was going to be "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll".
Looked like Broadway.
I was about to go in when my phone went. A paying client. By the time I reached the room I had missed Fiona Patten MLC, leader of the Australian Sex Party. Pity. Her talk was about free sex I guess, but I would have been interested to know just how free.
Unharm’s website claims it is:
'...a grassroots organisation campaigning for safe, positive and ethical drug use.'
Tregoning presented as a straightforward, intelligent man trying to do good things.
It would take me some time to work out why he was there.
Buckley was resplendent in a green, marijuana leaf-patterned jacket:
Anyway, I needed a break.
While most attendees were filing into the Thompson Room for "Government, Business and the Consumer" or the Broadway Room for "The Philosophy of Liberty", I mooched into the refreshments room.
This was the merchandising hub, with tables set up around the perimeter to enable various organisations to attract the interest of the captive market. During the breaks, it was full of keen libertarians holding teacups, making it awkward to navigate, but now I had it almost to myself and could take my time savouring the various offerings. As an added bonus, the volunteers who manned these outposts during the breaks were now in Thompson or Broadway learning something, so no conversation was required. The pictures tell the story.
After a leisurely tour, it was time to make another decision. I was over Broadway so opted for Thompson.
PRO CHOICE AND BETTER STORAGE
I missed most of the government business and the consumer session, but I did catch the last speaker, Christopher Zinn from Choice magazine. Some months ago, based on a Choice article, my wife and I purchased a front-loading washing machine after the old faithful top-loader finally died after 25 years. We have regretted this decision ever since.
Zinn (actually) said it is an exciting time to be a consumer. Peer-to-peer power. Choice is proudly not sponsored by the government. Etc.
But Thompson was the right pick, because during the Q&A a bloke in the audience stood up. He looked like he was about to ask a question when he was suddenly introduced to the audience as Sam Kennard, owner of Kennard’s Self Storage and now, proudly, officially number two on the LDP senate ticket for NSW after Leyonhjelm. Come on down Sam!
Sam appeared to take the mike reluctantly, but soon warmed to his task. If there is one thing Sam hates it is government red tape, particularly the red tape issuing forth from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Pain in the arse, apparently.
Sam said he tried to stay under their radar, but now he suffers a barrage of correspondence demanding various things — among them why he has not replied to anything.
Sam said the only way to deal with people like that is to ignore them. He’s probably right. Vote LDP for better storage.
God, it’s only afternoon tea.
I was on the phone for most of it, sitting outside in the sun watching the smokers.
Then we were all rounded up and ushered into one big room. The artificial barriers previously dividing Broadway and Thompson had been folded back to reveal one vast space. It was chock full of seats, but organisers were keen to have everyone sit towards the middle for a reason which soon became clear — group photo! Cheese! I am the guy up near the back.
And then a strange thing happened. A wafer-thin Asian girl took the stage. Her name is Yeonmi Park. She is 23 and lives in New York. She is very short.
She attributed her lack of stature to pretty much starving to death in North Korea. Her dad was imprisoned for black-marketeering and that was it. No more food.
Yeonmi convinced her mum they needed to escape, so they managed to cross the frozen river border without being shot, were raped and enslaved by local Chinese, escaped, walked around the perimeter of the Gobi Desert, then, after being imprisoned by Mongols, made it to South Korea.
Rightly, she received a standing ovation.
THE GALAH DINNER
It’s now 5 p.m.. That’s it for the day. Time to let the hair down, get ready for the gala dinner scheduled at 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m..
VIP ticket holders trotted off to an NAB-sponsored "drinks" function. I don’t know where everyone else went, but I went to the Broadway Hotel, had a couple of schooners and watched the Storm go around against the Cowboys.
Tight game. Storm didn’t scrape home by a point until almost right on 7.30 p.m., so by the time I got back to the venue I’d missed the free pre-dinner drinks. But no problem, there would be plenty more.
By the time I arrived the attendees were beginning to dump their glasses and bottles and file into the dining room, AKA the combined Thompson and Broadway rooms. I drifted in with them and took a place at the closest table, otherwise known as the back of the room. Took the seat next to a late middle-aged man wearing a brown shirt at the otherwise empty table. He had the seat closest to the door. Beers arrived. Brownshirt and I chatted amiably about freedom and liberty, chewing over the highlights of the day.
We were soon joined by a young couple, she in about her late 20’s, blonde (?), describes herself as a Gen Y investment adviser. Own firm no less. He is an investment banker. Both glow.
Others joined the table but the seat to my left remained empty, which meant I had the choice between chicken and beef when dinner arrived. Wine flowed, noise levels rose.
By the time the speeches came around I, like many others, had a few under the belt and up the back I could hardly hear a thing through the muted PA, but I can report the following:
Tim Andrews of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance was formalities MC, and it was his proud honour to present the gongs at the 4th annual conference.
First up, the Lifetime Achievement Award, went, unsurprisingly, to the founder of the Centre for Independent Studies, Greg Lindsay AO. He was visibly chuffed. And a little reddened.
Young Libertarian of the Year went to who else but young James Paterson, IPA tyro and now, incredibly, Liberal Senator for Victoria.
His maiden speech will make your hair curl:
The exciting prize of Libertarian Activist of the Year went to climate change denier Torpher Field. Torpher won the Uber-sponsored prize for a laughably adolescent Youtube clip he made about how cab drivers, in the face of Uber, are no more than outdated whingers. Check it out here https://www.facebook.com/stopprogress/videos
Then the big one. Libertarian of the Year. Wait for it — Matt Barrie! Applause, cutlery rattling.
Barrie is the founder of the highly successful freelancer.com and an outspoken opponent Sydney’s lock-out laws, but those achievements alone might not have delivered the glittering prize (which is actually a pretty crappy-looking framed thing).
The secret ingredient was his chief financial officer, a guy called Christopher Koch, a buddy of James Paterson, who likes to golf with Alexander Downer in London when he can. Koch worked in Downer’s office during the Howard era. He is an IPA member and was once president of the Victorian Young Liberals. He is also good friends with Tim Edwards of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance who is … you get the point.
So, three cheers for Matt!
GETTING SOME FRESH AIR
Awards dispensed with, a good percentage of us freedom lovers grabbed a drink and headed for the expansive balcony to enjoy a beautifully warm and scented Sydney evening.
In fact, the scent was pretty strong.
Marijuana smoke filled the night air with bonhomie as the precisely-rolled joints made their way through the crowd.
Stoned Libertarians make about as much sense as straight ones, but are little more light-hearted.
Meanwhile, down at the "adult" end of the terrace, Senator Leyonhjelm got stuck into the cigars and basked in the glow of his fans — Sam Kennard, Darren De Bertoli and Matt Barrie.
There’s some money there. Money that hates government. Dangerous money.
It was around then I realised what these people want. And why Tregonning and Koh had been invited.
Libertarians want the freedom to employ staff at as far below award as they can, they see immigrants as a resource to exploit, they resent paying tax, they don’t give a rat’s about the environment, they don’t care about any future but their own.
And they love to indulge — especially drugs and booze. Sex if they can. The last thing a Libertarian wants is to get busted by a fricken sniffer dog.
They have a right to do anything they please. And the devil take the hindmost.
Ross is the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. Special limited May 2016 offer: take out an annual IA membership and receive a hardcopy Ashbygate book FREE!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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